"I so enjoyed Janet Todd's beautifully produced book."Andrew Davies, screenwriter.
Sanditon is Jane Austen’s last novel, left unfinished when she died. A comedy, it continues the strain of burlesque and caricature she wrote as a teenager and in private throughout her life. This beautifully illustrated volume combines the full novel and Todd’s ground-breaking essay, where she contextualizes Austen’s life and work, Sanditon’s connection with Northanger Abbey (1818) and the Austen family’s speculation in England and the West Indies. She examines the moral and social problems of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and whether wealth trickles down to benefit the place it is made. In explaining the early nineteenth-century culture of self: the exploitation of hypochondria, health fads, seaside resorts, cures, she contends that Sanditon is an innovative, ebullient study of human beings’ vagaries - rather than using common sense, Sanditon’s characters follow intuition and bodily signs believing that desire can be translated into physical facts and speech can transform fantasy into reality. Todd shows Austen’s themes to be akin to contemporary concerns: the mistakes of the self-deluded reveal the inevitable, ridiculous gap between how we think of ourselves and how we appear and sound to others.
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About the Author
Janet Todd (Radiation Diaries, Aphra Behn: A Secret Life, A Man of Genius, Lady Susan Plays the Game) is a leading scholar and editor of Jane Austen’s work. The General Editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, editor of Jane Austen in Context, and author of The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen, she is a former president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, a novelist, biographer and an Emerita Professor at the University of Aberdeen and an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. Born in Wales, she grew up in Britain, Bermuda and Ceylon/Sri Lanka and has worked at universities in Ghana, Puerto Rico, India, the US (Douglass College, Rutgers, Florida), Scotland (Glasgow, Aberdeen) and England (Cambridge, UEA). She is completing her third novel, Don’t You Know There’s a War On? (2019) and lives in Cambridge and Venice.
Read an Excerpt
Jane Austen is one of the greatest novelists in English Literature. Whether intended for publication or private amusement, whether from finished or abandoned works or from fragments, all her words have interest for us now in our eclectic and curious twenty-first century.
Her fame rests, however, primarily on the six published novels. At first glance, these appear simple, romantic, almost wish-fulfilling tales. Yet, in fact, each is profoundly complex, and each is totally distinct in tone and technique. Few people fail to be delighted by a first reading of Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion; further readings of all the novels reveal the delights of unexpected intricacy and meaning. The greatness of Jane Austen is that her books are never exhausted.
Reading is a conversation between novelist and reader, and each generation reads Jane Austen anew. So, we ourselves bring something from our own period to an interpretation of past works and we notice aspects hardly glimpsed in previous centuries, but which now speak directly to our own interests. Hence the enormous industry of academic and popular criticism.
Austen is that rarity in the traditional canon of English literature: a figure pored over by scholars while being loved and read by the general public. Only Dickens and the Brontës come close to this achievement but not even those wonderful writers have fans parading the streets of London and Haworth in period costume--and an internet full of their invented characters who have jumped clean from the novels to become therapists, detectives, etiquette gurus and teenaged pals. Jane Austen’s books have been subjected to analysis in all their facets, while films and television adaptations have made the author and her fiction a global brand. Happily, she’s survived it all unspoilt.
The universal popularity is owing to many factors. Love and romance are winning subjects and Jane Austen delivers them, but with a hard-headedness about money and compromise that surprises a reader who comes from the films to the novels rather than vice versa. The characters she creates seem real: they live in families with whom they must relate, sometimes uncomfortably, as well as with the wider society. Her heroines learn how to stay true to their own intelligence and some inner core of being, while coping with uncongenial people and responding to social pressures. They are simply believable.
Yet Jane Austen and the characters she creates move in a world quite different from our own. The early nineteenth century is often called Regency, although the actual Regency when George III was mad and unable to govern, lasts only from 1811 to 1820. It occurs just before the railways made England smaller and its people more mobile and before photography caused us to look back on the Victorian world as somehow black and white. Jane Austen has become synonymous with a colourful Regency of romance and grace.
It was, however, also a time of extraordinary upheaval and change, including two revolutions, the effects of which are still being worked out in the modern world. The French Revolution broke out in 1789 when Jane was still a child, then morphed into the first truly global conflict, the Napoleonic Wars, lasting on and off until 1815 and darkening almost all Jane Austen’s adult life. Also, the Industrial Revolution, which would transform Britain into the first urban industrial power, began in her lifetime and ultimately reshaped the world. Readers have remarked that Jane Austen’s subject (‘3 or 4 Families in a Country Village’) seems largely to ignore these turbulent historical events, as well as the movement of enclosure which turned England into a land of private property and hedged fields--but look closely and you will catch between lines and in apparently desultory dialogue glimpses of all these changes.
Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in Steventon, a small village in Hampshire. Her extended family included a few rich landowners, many clerics, and an apprentice milliner. Hers was a reasonably pleasant middle-class background, close to the gentry but never absolutely secure in status or income.
Her father George Austen, a country rector, obtained his living through patronage of a wealthy relative, and augmented it with farming and tutoring pupils for university. He had need of all the income he could get, for he and his wife Cassandra had eight children to raise. Two of them were girls, Jane and her elder sister Cassandra.
Apart from a disabled one, the boys did reasonably well in life through patronage and effort. The eldest James followed his father into the Steventon living. Edward, the most fortunate, was adopted by rich relatives called Knight, and in due course inherited their vast estates which included Godmersham Park in Kent and Chawton Manor in Hampshire. At the tender age of eleven, Frank and Charles entered the Royal Naval Academy and rose up the ranks during the long French wars. Henry became soldier, banker and clergyman by turns.
In contrast, the Austen girls had only marriage or attendance on family relatives to look forward to in later life. Both had a chance of marriage, in Jane’s case more than one. Cassandra was engaged to a curate who became a military chaplain and died abroad, while Jane accepted, then speedily, rejected a proposal from a young man of good family and estate but insufficient attractions.
She began writing early, amusing her family with comic, knowing little stories and plays, then turning her hand to complete novels. First versions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were all composed at the rectory in Steventon.
From this house, Jane published her first novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Then followed two new ones, Mansfield Park and Emma, both evoking a more intense sense of home than the books originally drafted in Steventon. After she died, two further novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were brought out by her family.
The other, more fluent fragment is Sanditon. The writing of this was interrupted by her own death in July 1817.
Table of ContentsTable of Contents Introductory essay Sanditon Endnotes Note on the text Anna Lefroy to Andrew Davies: Continuations of Sanditon List of Illustrations